Responders for Christ
Texas Baptist Men serve disaster victims year round
By April Towery
From Alto, Texas, to Mozambique, the Texas Baptist Men group is staying true to the scripture, “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”
The group formed in 1967 to respond to disasters such as wildfires, explosions, tornadoes and floods, but their services go well beyond that – meeting needs many haven’t considered until faced with a crisis. The agency has teams to handle damage assessment, childcare, food delivery and incident management. They also have a box ministry that provides packing supplies and messages of hope to families who have to pack up their remaining possessions after a disaster. Chainsaw teams help remove debris. Heavy equipment, portable laundry units
and portable showers are provided. TBM offers chaplains, international ministry and leadership development courses. And just recently volunteers provided 3,200 bottles of water to the Farmersville Police Department just days before they deployed to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Barry.
The organization has tens of thousands of volunteers who serve out of the kindness of their hearts simply because God calls them to do so.
“All of TBM’s disaster relief ministries operate out of the love that Christ has for each and every person,” states the organization’s website. “Our purpose is to share Christ’s love through meeting needs.”
A servant’s heart
Tracy Barber, the wife of Farmersville Baptist Church pastor Bart Barber, is one of many who has emerged as a leader in the TBM organization.
She now serves as national childcare coordinator.
“I love kids and I love God,” Barber said. “That is a really good overlap of what I can do and how I can serve.”
Barber found out about TBM about 20 years ago and immediately signed up for training. She was first called out to a flooding event in Abilene in 2002. Since then she’s responded to needs in Brownsville, Laredo, El Paso, Hearne and West, among numerous other Texas cities. Her team assisted in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Sandy. She’s provided childcare in American Samoa and Hawaii, and she’s been deployed to Louisiana six times.
“If someone calls us, we go,” she said.
A trailer in Dallas is stocked with portable items needed to provide childcare – an attached sink and changing table, handwashing station for the snack area, toy shelves, etc. – all on wheels so they can be rolled into the facility where they are needed. Barber often sets up at a shelter or a Multi-Resource Agency Center (MARC), where adults can visit different stations for things like FEMA assistance while their children are cared for.
“After Harvey we had a lot of folks coming in from the Houston area,” she explained. “We worked at a shelter. Most of the time we go in and set up what looks like a daycare for newborns to 7-year-olds. Parents sign their kids in and go for whatever amount of time they need, then they come back and sign them out.”
TBM functions as a volunteer organization active in disaster, or VOAD, which coordinates with other responders such as the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and Southern Baptist Disaster League.
“When I get a call from my director in Dallas, I mobilize the volunteers around the state,” Barber said, adding that once it’s determined who can respond, she coordinates travel and lodging for the team.
Because there’s no one-size-fits-all disaster response, the group doesn’t know how long they’ll be away from home.
“We stay until the job is done,” Barber said. “That may be a week; it may be three weeks. In some settings, it’s one day per place.”
After the explosion in West, TBM volunteers set up for several weeks, she added.
“They’ve got a heart for people and they want to serve,” Barber said of her fellow volunteers. “Most of the volunteers are close to retirement age and their health is good enough to where they can do this for several more years. TBM for the past year has been deployed almost constantly, so there are people who stay busy year round. I still have two kids at home so I try to minimize the time I’m away, but as long as I have my health and I’m able, I’ll be there to help.”
Relief, rebuild, recovery
When reached for comment on this story in mid-July, Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief Director Dwain Carter was on the road in the Harlingen/Weslaco area, assisting teams in the aftermath of recent flooding.
“We’re here for recovery and helping the indigent,” said Carter, a Forney resident.
He met with members of Avondale Baptist Church in Harlingen, which got 14 inches of water. Pastor Robert Reyes said that as he assessed the damage, he “surrendered [the situation] to God.”
“I said, ‘You know our situation. You know our finances. It’s in Your hands.’ Immediately, God began to send all kinds of help,” Reyes said in a video posted on the TBM Facebook page. “A few days later He sent the first group of Texas Baptist Men. They came in and took out all the paneling and insulation and just did a tremendous job. We are thankful that God has not forgotten His church here.”
Carter said TBM partnered with First Baptist Weslaco to bring in sheetrock, insulation and installation crews to rebuild the church “so that Avondale Church can get back to worshiping the Lord in the way that He deserves to be worshiped. A building is just a building; we can worship anywhere, but a gathering spot for this community is this church that’s been here for over 50 years.”
Mary Leathers, a Bastrop-based firefighter and spokesperson for Texas A&M Forest Service, said she’s worked alongside TBM volunteers on several recovery efforts.
“They came to Fort Bend County during the major flood event in April/May 2016 to support the community and the first responders,” Leathers said. “They cooked, brought the portable toilets, showers and laundry. Most importantly, they prayed for us and kept our morale up. These folks quietly work behind the scenes supporting so many people.”
Texas A&M Forest Service, while known primarily for wildfire response and forestry expertise, also offers incident management teams and has vast expertise in disaster response. Teams from the state agency respond all over the country and are always grateful for assistance from volunteer groups like TBM, Leathers said.
“They also helped with recovery in Rockport, repairing houses and cleaning up debris for those who didn’t have the means,” she said. “They prayed with the families and gave them new Bibles.”
Response and ability
The beauty of Texas Baptist Men is that its volunteers and donors are just regular people who have a God-given skill or, in some cases, have extra equipment to donate.
David Heath owns coin laundromats in Bryan, and decided on a whim and a prayer to see how he could be of service.
“As a business person I started looking at the responsibility to the community,” he said. “The laundry business is kind of hard; it really is just quarters. We can’t give like Chick-fil-A or the NFL.”
But a recent change occurred in the industry, and commercial washing machines now process 38 gallons per cycle rather than 15 gallons.
“We had a whole bunch of used equipment,” Heath said. “I hated to take it to the dump and just throw it away, so I donated it.”
That fits the Christian mold of giving and helping one another, he added. His businesses – PJ’s Laundry – offer a dollar wash from 6 to 7 a.m. every morning to give back to the community, but that’s limited to their local customer base.
So Heath talked to a friend who operates a coin laundry in Baton Rouge.
“He cupped his hands together and kind of impressed upon me that you can use what you have in your hands,” Heath said. “You can just do something small and give back what you have.”
In a moment of clarity, the 58-year-old businessman realized that the word “responsibility” is a combination of “response” and “ability.”
“We all have an ability, so what’s your response to that ability?” he said. “I came up with this disaster relief laundry trailer idea. I started looking at what’s in the industry now. Most churches have a trailer, six top loads and six regular dryers, but when you open the dryers, you can’t walk down the aisle, and it’s not really equipped for commercial service.”
He made contact with the Southern Baptist Convention and learned that more than 150 churches are designated as shelters with electricity and plumbing. Typically, in the event of a tornado, there’s water but no electricity; in the aftermath of a hurricane, there’s power but no water and sewer.
“I completely redesigned the trailer,” Heath said. “I got Texas coin laundry operators to donate equipment. This trailer runs all day every day and can do 200 to 300 loads of laundry a day. We can wash more clothes with the trailers I designed. It was just part of my response.”
All expenses were covered through donations, and now the trailer has been turned over to Texas Baptist Men to respond with them wherever they go.
Heath remains humble about the assistance he’s provided, noting simply that it’s a way he can help others.
“I really just wanted to do my part,” he said.
‘Your light will shine’
As missions pastor of First Baptist Wylie, Jon Bailey said he strongly believes in the importance of serving those in need.
“A lot of times when disasters happen, church volunteers do not have access to be on the ground at first,” Bailey explained. “We rely on local law enforcement to respond and once assessments are made, they will invite others to come in. Texas Baptist Men is able to be on the ground really quickly because of their reputation.”
When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston two years ago, First Baptist Wylie members sent 14 relief teams to partner with Lakewood Church. Though the mission was not directly correlated with Texas Baptist Men, the volunteers – many of whom have mobilized with TBM on other response efforts – used similar tactics.
“We did sheetrock, painting and ministering to people in need,” Bailey said. “I think we mobilized about 250 people. The year before we had been very active in Wylie after the hail storm hit. That gave us perspective. We were living in the carnage and the craziness. We realized we just needed to come alongside the church in that community. They needed resources just to get their church cleaned up so they could focus on their community. Hopefully it was enabling them to become more effective.”
Bailey said the call to action is underscored in scripture.
“It’s about being obedient to God’s word,” he said. “If we help those in need, God will hear you. God will see that, and your light will shine. We need to be intentional, not just giving lip service. We show God’s love through our actions.”
Helping others is a gift to those doing the work, he added.
“They realize it’s not about them,” he said of the volunteers. “I believe we are wired to help other people. You don’t do it to give yourself a pat on the back. It fills you. You are tired at the end of every day but there’s something rewarding about that. Everyone bonds together.”
John LaNoue, another Baptist pastor, remembers decades ago designing and building a mobile food unit in his backyard in Mesquite. It originally served about 15,000 meals a day and was upgraded in 1994 to feed 55,000. And if that conjures images of Jesus feeding a multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish, it’s no accident. What began as the work of a few men has multiplied over the years and has reached thousands with a message of hope.
“Other states found out Texas had a unit, and it just grew,” said LaNoue, who now lives in Frost, between Corsicana and Hillsboro. “Now the Southern Baptist Convention has more than 95,000 trained volunteers. We built a childcare unit, a blue roof unit that puts tarps on houses, shower units and laundry units. We worked 9/11 in New York City. We were in North Carolina for three months.”
The 84-year-old, whose son is a neonatal pediatric surgeon in Plano, has also worked in North Korea and fed soldiers in Iran during Desert Storm. His book, “Walking with God in Broken Places and Lessons I’ve Learned along the Way” details his experiences.
“As a kid I lived in Galveston, and we had a hurricane come in when I was about 12. I also lived there when Texas City blew up,” he said. “My assignment from the Lord was to do His work. I kept seeing a need. The whole thing behind it was to take instruction from God. I didn’t want to go to North Korea or Iran but the Lord told me to go so I went and great things came from it.”
Not even close to being retired, LaNoue works as a mobile disaster consultant for Amigos Internacionales, which “provides basic human needs in global disaster and crisis situations,” according to its website.
“We just built a kitchen for southern Belize,” LaNoue said. “We got 9.5 million meals to Guatemala. We’re trying to get well units into Uganda. God is great and He does great things with little people.”
For more information or to donate to Texas Baptist Men, visit tbmtx.org .